Planet Waves | Moonfaces by Christopher Grosso



Fiction by Christopher Grosso

In a wealthier part of the country, in sharp contrast to the insensitivity that allowed corporations and governments to surreptitiously poison lesser communities with industrial and radioactive wastes in order to attain some worthless Machiavellian end, another portly little boy was being raised in a rather large Patrician family household.

Apart from a name rock stars would envy, Billy Twylight was born with a heightened sensitivity that frequently placed him in the realm of the poetic and the creative, which is to say "the spiritual." Thus equipped, he was exceptionally well-suited to join the ranks of the acolytes at St. Margaret-in-the-Field, his family's home parish. In between laying out the priests' toles in the sacristy and ringing the communion bells at mass, he observed the priests with the unerring eye of a scientist beholding his future destiny.

His mother often told people he was born with a smile on his face, but he wasn't; he was kicking and screaming, even more so than most newborns. To have to leave the warm and reassuring waters of Mother, and enter a cold and sterile social fabric that greets you with the sting of a medical ass-slapping was not something to smile about. If he could have, Billy doubtless would have crawled right back up there. But as it were, he had songs to sing.

At eight-years-old, his favorite was "Sunshiny Day," by Johnny Nash, which his mother had on a 45 RPM single. He actually believed Jesus had written it, on an accordion no less. Billy would go to the refrigerator and, from the produce drawer, carefully select a carrot that most closely approximated the shape and size of a microphone, play "Sunshiny Day" on the record player and shape-shift into a famous singer loved by millions.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.
I can see all the obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
It's gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day!

. . . followed by the encouraging sound of his mother's two hands clapping.

He was her baby; the youngest of four. An attractive woman, pure in the face as it seems devout Catholic women's faces are destined to be. The glow in the eyes. Glitter. No less because she was expecting her fifth, to be her final, child. It was only a matter of weeks before little Billy would lose his coveted VIP niche. How would he handle it, she wondered. So sensitive and all.

When Christine-the little blonde haired girl from across the path-came over, Billy would return from the kitchen with two carrots. And the two of them would become Sonny and Cher.

One sunshiny day on his way over to Christine's house, his mother's record in its thin paper cover held firmly between his pudgy fingers, his neighborhood nemesis suddenly jumped out of the woods onto the path in front of him. Billy began to tremble.

"Where you think you're goin', Twatlight?"

Rupert was his name, widely regarded in the neighborhood as "the bad kid." He and his little sister, Marcie, lived with their grandmother, next door to Christine. Rupert's mother, divorced, lived somewhere in California; his meanness was a response to his father's departure from his life, and his mother's poisoning of their attitudes toward him, not to mention her resourcefulness in using Rupert's sister and him as wildcards in some "adult" poker game. Of course as an eleven-year-old he couldn't articulate such things, but he sensed it, and it came out as a potent mean-streak. Just for kicks, he had once pulled down four-year-old Marcie's pants in front of half a dozen of the neighborhood kids. In fact it was he who had coined the nickname "Twatlight," which was adopted by nearly all of the kids, at one time or another.

"I'm going to Christine's," Billy replied in a shaky, uncertain voice.

"Christine's . . . " Rupert singsong sneered. "Gonna play house?"

As he usually did when facing certain adversity born of the ruthlessness of the outer world, Billy remembered something that made him happy. Adjusting his eyeglasses at the bridge, he looked at the record in his hand, smiled, and said "No, we're going to sing 'Sunshiny Day'."

Rupert's eyes became wide in a feigned sort of gentleness. "Oh, 'Sunshiny Day'?"

"Yep," Billy said, avoiding eye contact, pushing his frames up on his nose again.

"Lemme see it."

Billy held up his quivering hand, which was gripping the record.

"No, lemme see it! Empty it out of the cover, onto the ground, like this . . . " Rupert gestured like he was pouring something out of a container. Billy did as Rupert said, just wanting to get through the whole thing so he could arrive safely at Christine's house.

As the vinyl disc made contact with the soft grass on the edge of the path, Rupert ferociously stomped his feet on it, breaking it into a hundred pieces.

The two stood on the path in timelessness, just looking at each other; Rupert with a wild and poised look in his eyes, and Billy, temporarily paralyzed, in complete disbelief.

"Twatlight!" Rupert said quickly and provocatively, like a fist in the belly.

Frozen, Billy might have stood there all day had it not been for his latent survival instinct, which unexpectedly erupted and took over. Summoning all the nerve he had he heaved and pushed Rupert as hard as he could and ran as fast his jelly legs would carry him back in the direction whence he came. Looking back in mid-stride to see how close behind his predator was he caught a glimpse of Rupert rocked back on his shoulder blades touching the ground. In an amazing combination of alacrity, brutality and precision Rupert had managed to grab a stick on his way down, whip it in Billy's direction and strike him just below his jiggling buttocks. Billy felt the sting burn the back of his leg but just kept on running until out of breath and whimpering he arrived back on his porch, straight through the flimsy screen door-not stopping to swing it open but breaking clean through the screen, through the frame-the empty paper record jacket still clutched in his shaking hand.

His mother entered the kitchen to investigate the sudden, strange atmospheric change inside the house precipitated by Billy's hyperventilated sniffles coming too quickly and deeply to allow him to reach a state of stasis.

"Honey, what on earth is the matter? Calm down, baby. Calm down."

He finally managed to calm himself enough to be able to squeeze out his story of how Rupert the Bully had accosted him on the path and called him 'Twatlight' and tricked him into exposing her record on the ground and then stomped her new Sunshiny Day record into a gazillion pieces and then he threw a stick and hit him on the back of his leg.

And then, Billy broke down in front of his mother, and cried so hard he sounded like a dog barking.

"Aw . . ." his mother's heart was breaking like the 45.

"I'm sorry, Momma!" he cried, his emotions twisted into a knot in his belly. "I'm sorry!"

"Aw, sweety . . . " she said. "It's okay. Listen. Shhh."

She held him close, and let him get out the last of the pain that he had internalized, all the pain in the world, and looking into his red swollen eyes said "It's just a sign. Listen. Shhh. It's just a sign from Heaven, honey. It's saying that you're going to break all the records. That's all!"

His stammering sobs transfigured into sparkling tears of happiness as he looked into his mother's bright, warm, loving eyes. Her cheeks were glowing in recognition of the new life growing inside her womb.

He threw his arms around her neck, and his memory of the broken record and Rupert and the stick into the wind. Over her shoulder, his eyes locked on the glowing television screen, on which was projected the image of his favorite TV character: the great southern orator, The Reverend Dr. Billy Graham. He broke free of his mother's embrace, and ran over and sat in front of his hero.

Mrs. Twylight hoisted herself up from her crouch, walked over and sat down in the chair, caressing her belly, breathing out a deep stream of carbon dioxide.

That night, Rupert dreamed he was standing at the foot of a sheer rock cliff that disappeared above him into the sky. Looking up the vertical grade, he reached his grubby hand out grabbed a crag, and started to climb. His foot reached for a knob. Got it. His other hand reached. Got it. One . . . by one, by one . . . by one, he inched his way up. No end in sight. The sun singed the back of his white neck, as little by little he scaled the endless precipice. Each grasp a growing eternity, growing wobbly, sweat dripping from his brow, blurring his vision, up, up like an uncertain baby spider crawling. No end in sight.

The day wore on and the sun slowly passed over him and beyond the noon axis, passing somewhere beyond the summit, casting the cool shadow of the mountain over him, as he crawled and clawed up past the half-way mark.

As his fingertips reached the final ledge at the very top of the bluff, he hoisted his eyes just above the plateau, bright rays of sunlight blinding his salt-soaked eyes, a figure blocked the sun, a shadow figure appearing over him, its feet stopping just at the tips of Rupert's clutching fingers. He looked up at the figure's grinning face; it was Billy.

Rupert lost his grip. Billy reached down swift like a cobra . . . and Rupert woke in a puddle in his bed.++

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